Thursday, January 3, 2008

Oakland trades Moneyball love child

This afternoon, the Chicago White Sox pried outfielder Nick Swisher away from the Oakland Athletics for 3 prospects: pitchers Gio Gonzalez and Fautino de los Santos, and outfielder Ryan Sweeney.

When Oakland traded Dan Haren before Christmas, they unabashedly revealed their intentions. They are rebuilding. The trading of Swisher fixes them upon that path. The switch hitting 27 year old, Nick Swisher, was supposed to be a player to build around. He was featured as a particular player of interest for Billy Beane when he took over the draft in 2002, as written in the book Moneyball by Michael Lewis. Swisher can play all three outfield positions and first base, he can hit with power (20+ homers in every full season at the majors; 3 years and counting), and he can work a count (.361 career OBP, .381 last season).

Nick Swisher will, assumedly, play centerfield for the White Sox and help solidify their lineup. If newly acquired left fielder Carlos Quentin can prove that he’s healthy (he spent time on the DL with a shoulder and hamstring injury last year) and live up to is potential, the White Sox offense could be formidable. Swisher is a big addition to their roster, especially considering that he is still under contract for the next four seasons (thru 2011) with a club option for a fifth (2012). That most assuredly drove up the asking price for Swisher, and it shows in what Oakland received for him.

Oakland got a nice package of players headlined by left hander Gio Gonzalez, but he isn’t the only one with talent. Gonzalez is small of stature, only 5’-11”, leading to questions of durability, but throws a pretty good fastball and one of the best curveballs in the minor leagues. He had 185 strikeouts in only 150 innings last season at AA. ranked him as the 24th best prospect in all of baseball. We might see him in Oakland sometime in 2008, depending on how fast they want to rush him through the system. Fautino de los Santos has only played one season of professional ball, split between Class A and Class A Advanced, but he has dominated thus far. He threw 122 1/3 innings and registered 153 strikeouts with only 43 walks and 69 hits allowed. He is a long way away from the majors, but looks promising. Ryan Sweeney is more of a replacement player, if you ask me. He plays good defense and has a history of posting good on base percentages (a big plus in GM Billy Beane’s eyes), but he has never hit for much power. He’s never hit more than 13 homers in the minors and he has a minor league career slugging percentage of .401. He hasn’t performed very well in his 80 career big league at bats either. He will compete for a roster spot though. Whether he makes it depends a lot on other players. Travis Buck is assured a spot and so is Mark Kotsay if he’s healthy. With Swisher gone, I expect top prospect Carlos Gonzalez to get a longer look in spring training. And Chris Denorfia will be trying to come back from tommy john surgery this spring, too. If they decide to carry 5 outfielders, I will be shocked if Sweeney isn’t one of them.

It seems to have been an expensive trade for the White Sox in terms of talent given up, which is good for Oakland. But getting a player of Nick Swisher’s caliber just as he’s entering his prime and who is under contract for 4 years, makes it worth it. This is a trade that should help both clubs.

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